In the readings we heard, there are two kinds of neglect:
physical and spiritual.
The Gospel describes physical neglect.
The rich man was aware of Lazarus at his gate—
notice, when he arrives in the next life,
he recognizes him and calls him by name.
Yet while both were alive,
the rich man did nothing at all to help Lazarus.
Perhaps he thought others would take care of him.
Maybe he figured Lazarus’ troubles were his own fault.
And maybe they were.
It’s true we’ll meet a lot of present-day Lazaruses
who are in trouble because of drugs or alcohol or other bad choices.
That might affect how we approach them—or how we help them.
But it doesn’t justify our neglecting them.
At bottom is a very simple question: Am I my brother’s keeper?
The answer—so many times from the Lord Jesus—is “damn right.”
Now, pardon my expression, but that’s literally true:
If we forget the poor, we will go to hell—like the rich man.
Sometimes when we talk about poverty or homelessness,
or all the related problems that vex us, we want to talk about solutions.
And it would be great if we could really solve these things.
However, that isn’t what sent the rich man to hell—
that he failed to solve Lazarus’ problems.
It’s that he simply didn’t bother to do anything.
Nor is the Bible telling us that being rich is bad.
On the contrary: there are many figures in Scripture who are rich,
and this is described as a blessing from God.
Abraham for one; Job for another.
The key question is what we do with our blessings.
The danger of riches—as with so many other things in life—
is that we look to them for security,
when the only real security we have
is in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, for example, if you’re like me,
and you’ve always had good health;
to have that taken away can be a shattering experience.
Yet notice how often, when we lose that sense of security in our health,
what do we do—we start praying, don’t we?
Pity the rich man: he spent his life thinking he had it all;
Yet in neglecting his fellow man, he also neglected his own soul.
Which leads to the spiritual neglect I mentioned;
That’s what is going on the first reading.
The prophet Amos is describing those leaders
who were in a position to help keep the nation on the right track.
But they didn’t care.
The king, his advisors, the priests and the people of importance,
were either promoting false worship, or else unwilling to rock the boat.
I think I am guilty of not doing enough to help the poor.
And maybe many of us feel the same.
But here’s something to think about.
No one is going to give us a hard time
if we do more to feed people,
to provide clothing and vaccinations, and the like.
Everyone will approve of that.
But how will people react if we apply the same zeal
to addressing spiritual poverty?
So for example: a priest stands in the pulpit and says, go feed the poor.
But if we start talking about the moral climate?
If I call out the culture, and specify the problems with TV and the Internet,
There might not be so much applause.
If I talk about how our political leaders are leading us the wrong way—
which is what the Prophet Amos was talking about.
If I talk about protecting human life,
upholding marriage and protecting the family?
Or about materialism or how we worship at the altar of national power?*
Then there’s push-back.
And that doesn’t just happen to me—
it happens to you, if you speak up at work, or with family, or in other settings.
So here’s the question: do we only believe in one kind of poverty?
That the only poverty that God cares about is physical?
That doesn’t make sense, does it?
* Added extemporaneously